David Ignatius: Death in Benghazi

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: November 3, 2012
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11:11: An unarmed military Predator drone arrives over the compound to provide aerial reconnaissance. The drone had been diverted from a mission over Darnah, Libya, about 90 minutes away. But without weapons, it can't help much.

11:15: The CIA team puts the State Department group into a vehicle and sends them to the agency base; at 11:30, the CIA officers depart under fire and reach the annex six minutes later.

11:56: CIA officers at the annex are attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms. Sporadic attacks continue for about another hour. The attacks stop at 1:01 a.m., and some assume the fight is over.

1:15 a.m.: CIA reinforcements arrive on a 45-minute flight from Tripoli in a plane they've hastily chartered. The Tripoli team includes four GRS security officers, a CIA case officer and two U.S. military personnel who are on loan to the agency. They don't leave Benghazi airport until 4:30. The delay is caused by negotiations with Libyan authorities over permission to leave the airport, obtaining vehicles, and the need to frame a clear mission plan. The first idea is to go to a Benghazi hospital to recover Stevens, who they correctly suspect is already dead. But the hospital is surrounded by the al-Qaida-linked Ansar al-Shariah militia that mounted the consulate attack.

5:04: The team from Tripoli arrives at the CIA base. Glen Doherty, one of the GRS men from Tripoli, goes to the roof and joins Woods in firing positions.

5:15: A new Libyan assault begins, this time with mortars. Two rounds miss and the next three hit the roof. The rooftop defenders never “laser the mortars,” as has been reported. They don't know they're in place until the indirect fire begins, nor are they observed by the drone overhead. The defenders have focused their laser sites earlier on several Libyan attackers, as warnings not to fire. At 5:26 the attack is over. Woods and Doherty are dead and two others are wounded.

6:00: Libyan forces from the military intelligence service finally arrive, now with 50 vehicles. They escort the Americans to the airport. A first group of 18, including two wounded, depart at 7 a.m. A second group of 12, plus the four dead, leave at 10 for Tripoli and then the long flight back to America.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP